Never Mind the Mentors – Want Female Leaders? Focus on Sponsorship

In the past, one of the key programs corporations focused on in terms of a comprehensive talent management strategy was mentorship.

Mentorship is still important, particularly with Millennials entering the workforce, who not only crave mentorship and one-on-one development efforts, but practically demand it.

Developing female leaders through sponsorship

Developing female leaders through sponsorship

With that being said, it’s not just all about mentorship anymore—companies are finding a new way to foster talent, particularly when it comes to developing female leaders: sponsorship.

Spotlight on Sponsorship

Sponsorship is a relatively new idea in talent management, and it has many managers asking how it differs from mentorship.

According to Sylvia Ann Hewitt, who wrote the book on sponsorship, literally, the key difference is the role a mentor plays versus a sponsor. A mentor becomes a bit like your workplace confidant, and helps guide you through your career, while a sponsor tends to campaign on your behalf.

Hewitt’s book, (Forget a Mentor) Find a Sponsor, characterizes the relationship between a sponsor and the person she’s sponsoring as a “strategic partnership.”

Typically, a sponsor is someone who’s already in a position of power, and really works to help the person she’s sponsoring break through barriers, create networks and advance through the ranks of an organization.

Another big difference that comes through when defining these two different workplace relationships is the fact that a sponsor tends to be a public relationship, whereas mentorship focuses more on a private dynamic. Sponsors are there to champion loudly for the employee they’re sponsoring, whereas mentorship is more about the one-on-one interactions.

Why Women Can Benefit from Sponsorship

Sponsorship can be a valuable asset for employees, regardless of their gender, but it’s really making a presence in terms of providing the tools and resources for women to advance in their careers and become leaders in the workplace.

When a senior woman takes on a sponsor role it can help women who feel as if they’re often left out of important discussions or decisions in the workplace. For many women, the concept of networking in their workplace is difficult because of a subject we covered in a previous post, “the good ole’ boys club” mentality. With sponsorship, women can be privy to more networking opportunities, and they can really be recognized and thrust into the spotlight in a way that’s going to be beneficial in terms of promotions and moving toward leadership positions.

Also, as many companies, particularly in the engineering, technology and sciences industries work to retain their top female talent, there’s evidence showing sponsorship programs can help employers retain females more effectively.

Research recently conducted by the Center for Work-Life Policy found a 30 percent increase in promotions, raises and stretch assignments for employees actively working with a high-level sponsor, when compared to their non-sponsored counterparts.

Successful Sponsorship

A number of the world’s top-performing companies, including Morgan Stanley, are recognizing the value of sponsorship programs for leveraging talent, including female talent.

In order for sponsorship programs to be effective, they often need to have the following characteristics:

  • Sponsorship programs should be treated as something to be earned. Being paired with a powerful and high-ranking employee of a company shouldn’t be viewed as an entitlement program. Instead, it should be something talented female employees are able to work toward.
  • Sponsorship programs don’t necessarily have to focus only on the highest level executives in an organization. It can be something that’s comprehensive, where entry-level employees are sponsored by mid-level managers and so-forth. Sponsorship provides tremendous opportunities, regardless of which stage an employee may be at in her career.
  • Structure is key to successful sponsorship programs. It’s not just pairing a company leader with a promising employee and hoping for the best. It needs to be accompanied by support and education programs, according to Hewlett. There also needs to be metrics for measuring success put in place, and sponsorship should be a robust and widely supported part of your corporate talent management strategy.

How do you think sponsorship will impact companies as they attempt to identify and retain female talent?

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October 8, 2014   Updated :March 3, 2016   female leaders, mentoring, mentorship, sponsorship   

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